Recently a commentator on a major cable news show (okay it was MSNBC) was criticizing the proposed new healthcare bill, itemizing that 24 million Americans may lose their healthcare coverage, that premiums were likely to rise at least for the next 10 years and scores of Medicaid recipients would be thrown off the rosters. Then she said, “It doesn’t seem to be a very Christian plan.” Really?
As a noun, Christian refers to someone who follows the teachings of Christ, which makes perfect sense to me. But used as an adjective, it offends me, and I contend it should offend anyone who is not of that faith.
We don’t even hear it anymore because we are so conditioned to the word “Christian” as a synonym for decent, humane, caring behavior. “Non-Christian” or “Unchristian” then becomes code for indecent, unclean, possibly even evil. Like many of my Jewish friends and family, I just accept it and nod my head. But aren’t we non-Christians?
I am now convinced that this adjective contributes to hate-mongering, by vilifying non-Christians. You might say we need to suck it up because after all, we live in a Christian country with a national holiday for the birth of Christ and all that.
But you know what? Judaism also teaches love, respect and kindness. I wanted to hold on to the assertion of President Barack Obama when he said, in gentler times:
“I’ve said before that one of the great strengths of the United States is – although, as I mentioned, we have a very large Christian population, we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation; we consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values.”
Now though, the increased usage of Christian as an adjective is one more indication that this ideal is fading as Obama’s successor pollutes the consciousness of our country. I can’t help wondering if my 5-year-old grandson will be told to act more “Christian” in kindergarten if he grabs for a toy.
Of course there is a long tradition of vilifying Jews in literature, treating Christianity as the merciful norm and Judaism as an antiquated, bloodthirsty creed. Reading Shakespeare, for example, I have to turn—dare I say the other cheek—in order to appreciate the beauty of the work.
“It’s just a figure of speech,” I’ve been told whenever I’ve been bold enough to point it out to my Christian friends. Religious locker room talk, if you will. But it’s even more imperative to speak up now, as we see the byproducts of bubbling animosity and hatred reflected in bomb scares at JCCs, desecration of cemeteries and attacks on mosques.
Another note of interest: In Susan Jacoby’s book “Freethinkers” she explains how labeling all Protestants and Catholics as Christians was and is used politically to combat Roe vs Wade. The anti-choice faction needed a word to combine all the religions that were in opposition, she says. They became the Christian team.
“What is the opposite of Christian?” I asked Siri, on a whim, and was shocked to find answers ranging from “non-believer” to “satanic.”
Other antonyms for Christian are also cited as: agnostic, atheist, heathen, pagan, corrupt, immoral, improper, unjust, savage.
In various sentences where Christian is used as an adjective, I find allusions to Christian love, Christian mildness or meekness, Christian simplicity. You see where I am going with this.
Because if Christian refers to all that is good in mankind, as even Merriam Webster says, “treating other people in a kind and generous way,” where does that leave the rest of us? It leaves Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and all non-Christians in a netherworld of the feared other, feeding xenophobia and the hatred and violence that inevitably result.
It may be my small revolt, and it may seem silly, but right now, and in my life, but I won’t let it go by unchallenged. If someone says, “that’s not very Christian,” I will look at them and say, “So where does that leave me?”